Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Is training really all about periodization, intervals and power?

Well, no, training is about everything. It's about your effort on the bike plus nutrition, sleep, rest and your mental state, too - ie everything. It's even a little about the bike, as well.

But we can get carried away with the details and forget to just ride. To have fun.

I think we all have friends who are a bit unbalanced in their training. They obsess about some aspects - usually the hardware but sometimes also about diet or technique - and forget to just get out and ride. They may even rush out and engage a coach before even attempting the basics - like just riding regularly. They tie themselves in knots trying to meet goals that are way above where their bodies are at and get consumed by the details rather than look at the big picture. Phew. You know the type, right?

So I thought I'd write something about training with a non-technical slant. Mostly for the beginner, but for anyone really: it's Rob's "Just ride" training plan.

Remember - start healthy, stay healthy. If you are really new to exercise or have any doubts at all, see a doctor first.

Now, just ride (obviously). Don't race at first. Don't do intervals or baseline efforts. It's a mistake to do intervals, hill training or big rides without building a regular, consistent base first. Just ride regularly several times a week and well within your ability. If you want to race it's all built on experience and miles in the saddle. Your body adjusts over time to what you do in life, so if you are riding lots then your body adjusts to that effort. You get used to it. Just be consistent and do it because you love it. Join a club, ride with others. Learn by doing.

But you plan to race, yes? Sure, but you certainly don't have to do mega-miles or special efforts at this stage. Unscientific Rule of Thumb Number 1 works for me: if you plan to race then ride at least 3 times that distance in training per week, on average. No intervals, nothing fancy, just ride. So if you plan to race 50km just plan to train 150km a week, minimum. Yes you can do it with a lot less - but in the back of your mind you'll be thinking 'have I done enough?' And the answer will be 'no'. Don't race until you hit - or at least approach - that goal!

Unscientific Rule of Thumb Number 2 is that you need to build up gradually - don't just leap on a bike and ride 150km in one go and say "job done!". That's cheating and it doesn't work, at least for most of us! And it can (perhaps will) lead to injury. Instead make a plan to reach 150km a week (or whatever) in a series of incremental steps. 2 to 3 months is a good period over which to build up. Your body and mind will adjust to the effort and is less likely to break. But if you do get sore, slow down a bit or rest. Take some time to build a base. And don't race unless you have met your training goals first.

Unscientific Rule of Thumb Number 3 is similar to 2, it's "be consistent". Take breaks or ease off if your body says "rest" or "oww" but always come back to a repeatable pattern of effort that works for you. So ditch the "big ride" syndrome (at least for now, we can come back to that later) and go for regular, shorter efforts. One big ride per week works for some of us but mostly it's inefficient and ineffective. A better way to train is to do shorter daily or every-2nd-day efforts. So your 150km training week may be 3x50km rides or one 50km race and 5x20km efforts during the week. This allows your body (and mind) time to recover whilst ensuring that gains are made. If you are inconsistent, however, and do irregular big rides to "catch-up" you simply don't make the same incremental gains and risk injury.  

Unscientific Rule of Thumb Number 4 is "when you have done the miles, build on it". If you have followed what I have written so far you will have set out an achievable plan, adjusted it as needed, achieved it and done your consistent base miles. You may now race with some confidence. Of course a newbie will still struggle as we haven't covered intervals, power training and basic race skills and tactics. But that's the beauty of it all - you get to incorporate what you learn into your dynamic training plan! This is the build phase. You build in efforts that address weaknesses and enhance strengths. Now if you are a newbie to racing then be open to learn as it does involve a lot of skills, rules and etiquette that are not immediately obvious. Again, join a club, ride with others to get that experience.

So the build phase is literally built on a solid, consistent, regular and repeated base of steady miles. Not an on-and-off, patchy, lots-of-days-off melange of commutes peppered with massive catch-up rides. Unscientific Rule of Thumb Number 5 tells us that you lose "some" form and fitness  - it varies from person to person and by age so let's just say "some" - after only 2 days off the bike. You keep most, sure, but you lose 'something'. It may be small but after 2 days a bit of what you just gained is lost again. But if you leave 4 days or more between rides then you lose a much bigger slice of whatever you last gained. Again it's not all lost but it's certainly not all there, either. (Cautionary note - sometimes you just have to rest and recover, treat an injury or whatever and simply must take days off. It happens, it's OK.)

In summary, your body simply doesn't waste resources. If it looks like you won't be using those muscles and endurance power systems again, rather than keep it "just in case" it redistributes those resources elsewhere. Hence regularity and consistency are king, they remind your body of what you need to do. 

Now with the base in place you can add the fancy stuff to build speed, power and endurance. If you really enjoy it and want to take it further you can read up or get a coach. And remember: have fun.